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Reddit: What Marketers Must Learn from the Web’s Most Impenetrable Social Site

RedditI’ve been banned from submitting links on Reddit on three separate occasions. Each time I was posting links to my own stuff mixed with links to other sites. I thought I was doing the right thing, following the so-called 80/20 rule of social (80% other people’s stuff, 20% my stuff). But I wasn’t.

My mistake? Jumping in and thinking it was just like every other social media site.

Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn aren’t networks that punish you for failing. You can try until you get it right. You can hire a professional to get it right for you. And of course, there are people who use those networks badly and still gain fans and followers. Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+. Failure is an option on those sites, too… but not on Reddit.

Over at Reddit, reporters are banned from posting links and their news organization websites are banned with them. In my case, I wasn’t even promoting my own content exclusively, just posting links badly. In order to use Reddit, you really have to understand the value of community, authenticity and quality content.

When we talk about community on other social sites, we generally mean a brand’s fan base.  When we talk about authenticity, we mean making a corporation sound like a person. On Reddit, those two things maintain their traditional definition. Because of that participation on the site resembles classical citizenship, and your contributions will be judged within that context.

That makes marketing people, even the most internet savvy ones, sit outside of Reddit looking in. They want the some of those 2 billion pageviews that the site serves up monthly, but don’t know how to get them. The truth is making Reddit work it’s easy. It’s really easy. Stop marketing.

I’m an casual Reddit user. I pop a link here and there. I comment on the Cleveland Reddit posts when someone has a question about an event or needs advice about my neighborhood. Every once in awhile I share a link to my own stuff, but only when I know it’s worth sharing.

When I wrote the blog post “Making Marketing a Noble Profession” a few weeks ago, I said marketers must stop promoting and start educating. Reddit does this by design. Great content, whether informative or entertaining (or both), is rewarded. Bad content isn’t tolerated. Other social networks don’t distinguish between the two. (Even Reddit’s sponsored links are held to a similar standard.)

Why is that important? Because what Reddit does on an organic, grassroots level is what the big guys want to do as they refine their algorithms. Google wants search to work this way. Facebook wants the newsfeed to do the same. They’re existence is based on users coming back for content that’s worth consuming, so even their advertising systems have a way of ensuring placement for better converting ads. Reddit’s strict content quality control is a model for future content distribution, as it very well should be. So even if you can’t break into the Reddit community, you need to understand the basic principle of producing and sharing quality content if you want to be found online in the future.